Australia's Simpson Desert to be closed for summer

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Simpson Desert will be closed to visitors during summer due to safety concerns

South Australia's Department of Environment and Heritage has announced that the Simpson Desert in Central Australia will close annually from December 15 through to March 1. The department says a risk assessment showed temperatures of 40 to 50ºC (104 to 122ºF) were dangerous for people crossing the desert.

The closure will affect the Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Simpson Desert Regional Reserve, an area of approximately 3.6 million hectares (8.9 million acres).

Trevor Naismith, regional operations director of the department, said the closure was necessary to prevent deaths and ensure the health and safety of visitors and emergency staff. “Closing the desert is really a common sense thing to prevent deaths of unsuspecting visitors,” Mr Naismith said.

"We’re very keen to encourage safe and responsible use of the desert; however we do have a duty of care."

"It’s just such a vast and inhospitable place during summer, there are no trees and there is no shade and it’s so hot, it really is one of the most inhospitable places in Australia if not in the world."

"There's been a number of near misses and we have had deaths in past years in the northern parts of South Australia in relation to overseas tourists who are not experienced and are ill-prepared for the conditions."

The department says that high temperatures can have a severe effect on the body, with heat exhaustion leading to loss of proper body function and ultimately death. High temperatures can also cause vehicles to overheat, vaporise fuel, blow tires and for batteries to fail.

Local tourism outlets and visitor information centres have been advised of the closure and new information signs will be installed at all entrances to the park.

It is not believed that the closure will have a large effect on local tourism businesses as only around 25 vehicles cross the desert through summer.

People caught by park rangers crossing the desert will face fines of up to A$1,000.